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Community Meeting: Future of Puna

July 2, 2018, 2:42 PM HST
* Updated July 2, 4:55 PM
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A few hundred Puna residents turned out for the Future of Puna town meeting held by County Councilmember Eileen O’Hara, Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, state Sen. Russell Ruderman and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria on June 30, 2018. 

Ikaika Marzo spoke on the land recently donated for transitional housing for families during the Future of Puna town meeting on June 30, 2018, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

O’Hara organized the meeting to hear from the people of Puna about what their needs are during and after the East Rift Zone eruption.

The legislators were able to gather questions, comments, and ideas and gain input on the future of Puna and what the community needs to recover—especially businesses, farmers, personal lives and the community.

In addition to local representatives, officials from FEMA, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Hawai‘i County were present to support the community and offer their services. 

A few hundred Puna residents turned out to discuss the future of Puna with community leaders on Saturday, June 30, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

Residents were reminded that although SBA said its services are for small businesses, residents are not required to own a small business to get financial help. Everyone impacted by this eruption is encouraged to apply with the SBA.

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O’Hara said she presented a resolution asking for a state legislative special session to decide how lawmakers can help Puna recover. Before the special session can be held, there needs to be a proposal and agreement from the county on what the plan will be. 

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Rep. San Buenaventura pointed out that although “government is slow, we know people.” 

She acknowledged the issues with letters from Hawai‘i County, which state that the evacuations were voluntary, but insurance and assistance qualifications require the letters to state the evacuations were mandatory, not voluntary. 

“We hope it becomes mandatory,” said Rep. San Buenaventura. 

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Rep. San Buenaventura said that the $500 million affordable housing bill passed and was not signed nor vetoed by Gov. David Ige. She said that there are funds available that are not earmarked and should be available for Hawai‘i County to use for transitional housing. 

Sen. Ruderman said the earliest a special session can be held is in mid-August—about five weeks from now. He introduced a proposal for a relocation project.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman sharing his proposal for one-acre lots to create a new subdivision on state land, creating a relocation option for residents who have lost their homes whether they are destroyed or still standing but remain uninhabitable, during the Pāhoa Town meeting on June 30, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

Sen. Ruderman said that after thinking about it day and night for weeks, the idea he has is to take some unused state lands on Maku‘u in Hawaiian Paradise Park that is not being used and is not native forest to create a new subdivision. He wants to create one-acre lots as motivation not to rebuild in the lava zone. This subdivision would have water and electricity and would require one county road.

“I don’t think people should rebuild in the lava zone one,” said Sen. Ruderman. 

According to Sen. Ruderman, the project would be very cheap to do.

He said there is 1,000 acres of land and he has already received the ok from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Sen. Ruderman said both the Big Island DLNR land managing chair and state chair approved the use of the land for this relocation proposal. 

Sen. Ruderman said it is a bold, new idea.

“It requires courage,” said Sen. Ruderman. “Help me make this idea better. Help me get a better idea or please support this idea.” 

“I am trying to light a fire,” stated Sen. Ruderman, after encouraging everyone to call Mayor Harry Kim’s office and express support for his proposal

“We are facing an unprecedented situation,” explained Sen. Ruderman. “It could be done right now, if we have the will to do it. I humbly ask for your support.” 

Congresswoman Gabbard discussed access to federal, state, county and nonprofit resources. 

Congresswoman Gabbard speaking with residents of lower Puna after the Future of Puna town hall meeting on June 30, 2018, at Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

She said the four leaders have been working together and to implore federal resources as quickly as possible. Rep. Gabbard said she has heard from a lot of farmers who have lost everything.

“Maybe your crops weren’t insured, but the plants are now dead,” Rep. Gabbard stated. 

She said they are working to come up with a plan for those who have lost farms and been through so much. 

“Puna is strong because of you—because of the people and resilience you all have and continue to show,” Rep. Gabbard said.

Community members asked questions about access to the shoreline, helicopter noise, insurance issues, attending Uncle Robert’s Night Market, returning to homes in Leilani Estates, a public lava viewing area and many more concerns.

There were more questions than time. 

Those with insurance, FEMA, housing and any other questions are urged to go by the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) at Kea‘au High School Gym, open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The DRC will be open on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. 

For more information, go online.

Buses run daily from both the Pāhoa and Kea‘au shelters to the DRC. For bus routes, go online.

Congresswoman Gabbard spoke with a Kapoho resident who lost her family home after the meeting. The resident asked Rep. Gabbard why the National Guard was not there to help her family evacuate. 

Congresswoman Gabbard speaking with a Kapoho resident who lost her family home after the town hall meeting on “The Future of Puna” on June 30, 2018. The resident was asking why the National Guard was not there to help her family evacuate. PC: Crystal Richard

“I know that there is a lot more that the National Guard wants to do but the county has to ask them,” explained Gabbard. “I agree with you, so make a list of things both you, residents and folks in the community need and go to the county and start making these requests, so they then see that the county can’t fill this demand. We do have the National Guard that is still activated under the governor’s disaster proclamation and they will either increase or decrease the number of troops that are here based on the need.”

With over 300 residents still in shelters in Pāhoa and Kea‘au, there are many resources that cannot be used at this time, such as the pool and skate park. 

Lava has covered or isolated favorite swimming and recreational areas in lower Puna. 

Pohoiki, also known as Isaac Hale Beach Park, became isolated after only having access through Four Corners or Government Beach Road, after access on the Red Road was cut off by the first ocean entry at the end of May. 

To date, 662 homes have been taken by the lava. Over 6,164 acres have been covered by lava.

“I think there is a great need to give people hope—to give people a sense of what the future is going to look like,” Sen. Ruderman said. “I know Pele has no timeline and this disaster might not stop. We have to move forward anyway. We have to give people a path forward.” 

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